Legal invoicing can be one of the biggest pain points for clients, and one of the reasons they are less likely to use the same attorney in the future. On the other side, legal invoicing is also a big pain point for attorneys, and one of their least enjoyable parts of practicing law. But… what if you could use legal invoicing to help improve your attorney-client relationships? By recording your time in a way that is open, honest, and easy-to-understand by clients, you can transform this mutual annoyance into a positive communication between you and your client.
After more than 30 years of practicing law, here are 5 of my favorite ways to improve your time recording and legal invoicing, resulting in better communication and happier clients:
1. Be honest and accurate.
Unfortunately, some people don’t automatically associate the word “honesty” with the word “attorney.” One of the reasons for that may be due to billing practices and surprises on invoices. By being honest and accurate every step of the way – from intake to invoicing, you can show clients that you’re a trustworthy attorney giving them your best work.
2. Prioritize your client’s experience.
Ask yourself on every single time entry how you would feel if you were the client receiving the bill.
You might assume clients don’t read each line item of your time entries, but you should change that mindset now. Clients often pore over their legal invoices to see exactly what they are paying for and what kind of work you’re doing for them. For some clients, the accounting of your time is the best way to see the progress of their case.
If you were to see a time entry that said something vague like “revised documents,” how would that make you feel? Would you want more details? Would you have more questions?
Asking yourself what you would want to see in your invoices if you were the client shifts your perspective from time recording being a waste of your time to treating time recording as an important part of the communication and trust-building between you and your client.
3. Manage expectations.
Things change. Let your client know right away when they do.
We’ve all been there – we thought we had a project with an extremely straightforward legal issue, but something changed (often outside of our control) and a simple issue is now complex or more time intensive.
When you see that your client’s issue is going down a path that neither of you expected, share the situation with your client as soon as you’re aware of it. Don’t let them know by sending a legal invoice that far exceeds what they were expecting. Address these changes early.
4. Consider the value of the hours you put in.
Were the hours billed commensurate with the importance, difficulty, and urgency of the task? Was value delivered?
While we, as attorneys, understand how some mundane-sounding tasks further the progress of a client’s case, listing several hours spent as simply “review of medical records” doesn’t resonate the same way with clients. Instead, quantify your time and the reasons behind your time spent by describing the exact work and how it helped further their case. For example: “Reviewed 800 pages of medical records in preparation for drafting deposition outline.”
5. Control the Narrative.
Draft your narratives in a way that shows the client that value was delivered.
Communication with your clients is done much better as a narrative. Tell the client the story and progress of their case through your billing practices. This not only encourages honesty and transparency, but it also elevates your invoices into something that’s easy for clients to digest and follow.
Here are some tips for creating a narrative in your legal invoicing:
A. Provide detail throughout the narrative – this provides context for your time recording.
DO tell a clear story with a beginning, middle, and end. For example:
- Monday: “Client called about problem A.”
- Tuesday: “Researched problem A.”
- Wednesday: “Resolved problem A.”
DON’T show progress through repetition, such as:
- Monday: “Edited A.”
- Tuesday: “Edited A.”
- Wednesday: “Edited A.”
B. Include the name of the counterparty in the description.
If you are representing client ABC in a contract matter involving a company named XYZ, each entry should include “XYZ” at some point in the description. This shows personalization and relevance for the client.
C. Be consistent in the words you use to keep the narrative flowing.
I recently reviewed a proforma where some of the narratives used the term “investment management agreement,” while others used the abbreviation “IMA,” and a few used something like “client contract.” I know these terms all refer to the same thing, but the client might not. Even if they could figure it out themselves, save them the trouble and stay consistent across all your time recordings.
- For time entries that involve a meaningful amount of time (say, over two hours in a day or more than five hours in a week), try to explain why the task took a meaningful amount of time by emphasizing the gravity of the work.
- Consider using phrases like “extensive edits in response to opposing client’s changes” or “added new ERISA section to agreement.” Use language that conveys heavy lifting took place on those days.
- Mention names of people, especially those on a call. This helps build the narrative and show the client whom you are referring to in order to progress their case. Add titles or roles if that would add meaning and give more context for your client.
These 5 tips for improving your legal invoicing and attorney-client relationships become even more important when working in a virtual law firm. Each communication builds trust or diminishes trust between you and your client, and these tweaks to your time tracking are steps towards building long-lasting relationships with higher client retention.
I hope this article helped you rethink how you track time and how you relay that to your clients. If you are looking for a firm that values the client experience and gives you control over how you run your practice, learn how are hybrid model helps attorneys.